Pause, Listen, Share! Let’s make the world a better place!!!

Each of our stories is so fascinating. If only we pause to listen to them the world will be so much more a better place to be in.
Yesterday I was moderating a Panel Discussion on building Safer Cities at a Business Conclave. One of the speakers I met there is a fine Britisher named Dr.Andrew Hawkins, a senior management team member at Microsoft. Dr.Hawkins has an amazing, almost incredible, story. His great grandfather was lost in the high seas when his ship wrecked while he was on a voyage through the Indian Ocean. But he miraculously swam ashore, landing at an Indian beach. A group of Indian fishermen cared for him for several months, helped him regain his health and he eventually found his way back to Britain. Dr.Hawkins was very emotional when he said: “I am here, able to speak to all of you, only because a few kind Indians, in a coastal village here, many, many years ago took care of my great grandfather!” Dr.Hawkins finds it so overwhelming that, over three generations later, he should be in the same country that helped his great grandfather rebuild his Life. He plans to come back to India on a sabbatical to locate and reconnect with the families of those fishermen that tended for his forefather and express his family’s gratitude to them.
Hearing Dr.Hawkins’ story reminded me of a beautiful expression, a truth, that I had read some years ago. We are all not human beings going through temporary spiritual experiences, we are all spiritual beings going through temporary human experiences. All the strife and disharmony in the world exists because we don’t notice the divinity in each other. We go around seeking God in temples, churches, mosques and gurudwaras, but we fail to see the God within. You and I are alive because of a Life energy that powers us, that thrives in us. And it is the same. The slum dweller in Dharavi in Mumbai, the President in the White House, the hungry child in South Sudan, the Maori aboriginals of New Zealand and each of the seven billion people on the planet – each of us, has the same energy source. What more evidence do we need of the divinity in us? That makes all of us equal and connected. You inhale what I exhale. And I inhale what you exhale. There can’t be a more evident connect, a more deeper bond between us humans.
Yet, however much social media may have transformed the world by shrinking distances, we continue to be divided by race, religion and nationalities. The distances between us are actually no longer just physical. We are distant because we have stopped being human. We are just not available for each other. We are no longer making an effort to reach out, to understand, to appreciate and celebrate each other. We are lost in our own myopic worlds and are consumed by our challenges. We don’t realize that if share, if we listen, we can learn a lot more and feel a lot, lot more happier and secure. The Dalai Lama, someone who I admire greatly for his simplicity and wisdom, has said this so beautifully, “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion. This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness.”

Here’s hoping you and I make more time for each other and for pausing to share and learn from our stories. That’s the only way we can, together, make this world more caring and leave it better than we found it!
namaste! – The God in me bows to the God in you!  

An unputdownable learning from a pesky co-passenger

Each of us has an opportunity to make trauma meaningful.

Tragedy, and the trauma that follows, has spared no one. Even so, few people make the transition from victim to survivor. And the reason why many don’t make it is because they fail to look at trauma as an opportunity – to evolve, to understand Life and to make whatever is left of it meaningful.

What differentiates a victim from a survivor is simply the way each of them approaches Life post a setback or a crisis. A victim blames the extraneous factors that caused the crisis for his or her plight. Some victims even blame fate or God for their predicament. But psychologists believe that survivors are not likely to be on a blaming mission. Yes, they too will be besieged by hopelessness, anger and depression, but they will choose to move on. It is never easy. But they will, nevertheless, get up, dust themselves and keep walking – knowing that time – and Life – will eventually heal.

Survivor is a very academic term. I would like to replace it with another one in this context – champion. A champion here does not just mean a winner. It also means one who champions living fully – trying to do his or her best, no matter what the circumstances may be.

In an essay in the latest issue of The Week,  on the fortitude displayed by survivors, Shutapa Paul writes that scientists attribute survivorship – the ability to face Life despite the odds – to biological factors like high serotonin levels, no post-traumatic changes in hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis or less reduction in hippocampal volume in brain. But there’s another reason why champions have the indomitable (human) comeback spirit. And that reason is, they don’t waste time asking why something has happened. Indeed they experience pain and do suffer for a while trying to make sense of whatever has happened. But they stop sulking pretty soon. They face their trauma, accept their reality, recognize the futility of their grief and of blaming anyone – including Life – and simply go on living. They see Life as a gift and don’t intend on wasting it. Nor do they ever feel the urge to quit and to give up on Life.

I was once traveling by the Rajdhani Express from Surat to Mumbai. The passenger sitting next to me was keen to have a conversation with me. I was least interested in a chat and preferred to go back to reading Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, which was nearing its unputdownable climax. But the man was irritatingly persistent. I finally put down the book and succumbed to my neighbor’s efforts to chat with me . I soon discovered that he had an inspiring story to share. He, I learned, is a very successful diamond trader. His wife and only child had died in the Indian Airlines (now Air India) IC 113 plane crash at Ahmedabad airport in October 1988. He showed me pictures of his deceased wife and son. He told me how difficult it was initially for him to cope with their sudden, devastating loss.

“I loved my wife and son dearly. For many months after their death, I would wake up in the middle of the night screaming their names. I would be alone in my palatial bungalow. And my screams would echo back to me. It was eerie,” he said.

“How did you move on? Did you remarry,” I asked, considering I thought he was in his mid-forties when I met him.

“I chose not to remarry. I moved on, however, because I soon realized suffering and grieving was foolish. It was not going to bring back my family alive to me. I realized that while I loved them a lot, I was hardly spending time with them. I was busy making money. Now, I have lots of money. But no family to go back to. So, I have made it my mission in Life to awaken people to the importance of spending time with their families, and not just on their careers. Which is what I want to tell you too. Please make time for people who you love. Spend quality time with your wife and children. Life is very unpredictable and impermanent. Make sure you have meaningful memories when you are finally alone,” he explained.

To me, that man on the train, is a champion. His wisdom, it turned out, was more unputdownable than The Da Vinci Code! For he’s understood not just Life but its value. So, he’s managed to make his Life – and his trauma – meaningful. We may all not be successful in making trauma meaningful, but we can at least ensure that we are not held hostage by it. Clearly, when Life socks us, as it will often do, we can come out of our initial state of shock and trauma, by accepting our current reality, by understanding that continuing to grieve is wasteful and by simply “living Life fully”!

Get comfortable with uncertainty

Someone I know told me recently that his family was “living with a lot of uncertainty” at this time, given the condition of a member of their family who is battling a final stage cancer. The phrase ‘living with uncertainty’ made me pause and reflect. Aren’t we all, all the time, dealing with uncertainty?
The nature of Life itself is uncertain. The moment you are born uncertainty follows you like a shadow. Every living moment has no guarantees. Anything, absolutely anything, can happen. The past few days, the papers in India are running the story of a 50-day old baby in Tamil Nadu going up in flames, on its own, every now and then. Doctors treating the baby, that has severe burn injuries, are divided over the theory that the child is affected by the ‘spontaneous human combustion’ syndrome. Apparently, one historical view is that the baby’s case is the rarest of rare, among the very few that have been reported in the last 200 years, from across the world! Even so, can you imagine a human baby catching fire on its own?
That’s how bizarre and uncertain Life is for you – and, therefore, inscrutable.
If Life is intrinsically uncertain, why is dealing, and living, with uncertainty, so difficult? The problem lies in our “educated and informed” definition and interpretation of Life. A common view, handed down the generations, is that if we have money, many things in Life are predictable with some certainty. So, we have all fallen into “earning-a-living” and feel “comfortable” in the knowledge that money can bail us out in uncertain times. Even so, invariably, at least once in our lifetimes, more as a reminder of its true, inscrutable nature, Life will pose us a challenge that money cannot solve. Like that health (cancer) situation discussed above, or a relationship mess or a reputation loss as in the case of Hyderabad-based techie and former employee of HCL, Siddique Taj Kazi. 40-year-old Siddque, a father of five, lost his job with HCL and was jailed for four months (earlier this year) under charges of abetting ‘terrorism’ in a 10-year-old case of a bomb blast at a bus depot in Ghatkopar, Mumbai, in 2003. On August 2nd, the Mumbai Crime Branch pleaded with a Court that they found no evidence against Siddque and that they would like to drop charges against him. The Court has since acquitted Siddque. “But what about the loss of his reputation, his job and our peace of mind,” asks his beleaguered family, through their lawyer, Rebecca Gonsalves. Pertinent question. But am not sure they will get an answer – either from the Courts or from Life!  
The best way then to live in peace appears to be to drop the desire to be certain about everything in Life. Clearly, no amount of security that you garner in your favor ever works in the face of Life’s design. Despite all your plans, only what is to happen will happen. Know that when everything is so secure, or seemingly secure per your calculations, you are actually dead. Because death is the ultimate security – it is fixed, there’s no movement. Life, on the other hand, is flowing. And anything in flux has no form. So, welcome and choose to be comfortable with uncertainty. Then, and only then, despite its intrinsic insecurity, will you LIVE – truly, fully, happily!